This Québécois duo from near Montreal label themselves and their music as ‘électrotrad.’ Mélisande and her husband Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand come from quite different musical backgrounds. Despite the flourishing French-Canadian traditional music scene, Mélisande admits that “when I met Alex, I didn’t know anything about traditional music.” The singer-songwriter’s background was “more in the prog-rock scene.” She lived in Boston for five years, sang with the art-rock band The Sweepers, and even studied guitar with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. Nevertheless, the pair’s first album, Les Métamorphoses, won her a Canadian Folk Music award for traditional singer of the year. “So I felt I belong and I’m accepted. I had been seen on the scene,” she quips.
Having studied electric bass and musical arranging, de Grosbois-Garand played bass and flute for several years with the celebrated Québécois trad band Genticorum. However, he says, “as a bass player, I was into bass grooves and wanted to get into electronic music.” Ironically, the wooden flute has become his main instrument and the practicalities of playing multiple instruments on stage mean it’s easier to play basslines on a synthesizer. “I also manage the computer,” he laughs. The band’s principal arranger has long enjoyed the crossover between traditional and electronic music, citing Scandinavian acts like Hedningarna and Garmarna as particular influences. Increasingly, though, he has gravitated towards the electronic music of such acts as Trentemøller and German house duo, Booka Shade. “The traditional part of our repertoire,” Mélisande adds, “is the traditional songs that we arrange and wrap around electronic music. We actually wanted to record laments at first, but came back to our first love in shows, which is making people dance.”
They also attribute their shifting sound to their ‘secret weapon,’ producer Gabriel Ethier. “He’s like the George Martin of the band,” de Grosbois-Garand suggests. “Our original sound engineer was more rooted in traditional acoustic music,” whereas Ethier is more versed in electronics. He’s currently finishing off the duo’s imminent new album, Flash de Mémoire, which follows on from their 2019 album, Les Myriades. For the first time, the new album was recorded at their home and with entirely new lyrics to some of the traditional songs that have always served as their staple diet. “With this album,” de Grosbois-Garand enthuses, “we wanted to do like a non-stop dance party, from first song to the last.” Their image has also changed accordingly, with wacky, futuristic plastic designer-costumes. “You know, I’m a mother and maybe I was becoming, not boring but a bit… dull,” Mélisande confesses. “It was natural to want to express myself on stage.” De Grosbois-Garand elaborates: “We wanted to kind of shake things up, break some walls with trad music.”
The prospect of touring again is becoming increasingly feasible, which means taking their children with them. “Our son helps us do the set-list and he did some break-dancing on stage with us at some shows,” the proud father laughs. The future’s bright, then, and Mélisande [électrotrad] indeed seem set to ‘break some walls.’
This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Songlines magazine. Never miss an issue – subscribe today